In the current climate of the COVID 19 context, many of us are drowning in a sea of media and news reports, yet too afraid to ignore what is being reported. News is coming at us at speed, and from all sorts of different sources, and not many of us are undertaking a careful analysis of what we hear and read. And yet, that is the most important thing. We need to carefully evaluate our sources and the extent to which we pay attention to accuracy, ‘sound advice’, ‘expert views’ and, sometimes, opinionated self-importance! This requires being a critical thinker, an essential skill for operating in an academic context.
Being a critical thinker means that you do not just read or hear and simply take it all in. It means asking questions and looking at the answers in a systematic and orderly way. Critical thinkers look at sources of information; they look for evidence and for reasons, before believing something to be true.
What sorts of questions do critical thinkers ask? They ask questions that allow them to probe and elaborate on certain issues, and then other questions that enable them to analyse and evaluate. These questions will provide information that falls basically into three broad categories:
- analysis and
In the first area, asking ‘what? where? who? when?’ will give you basic
information and allow you to gain a better picture about an issue or a situation. Then asking ‘how? why? what if?’ type questions will provide information to facilitate analysis. Stepping back and looking at the bigger picture you might ask questions such as ‘so what? what next?’. The important thing is that this type of critical analysis will be undertaken in a structured way.
A Critical Thinking Exercise
You could try this out for yourself with an article from the daily paper. For example, an article in The West Australian of the 22 May 2020 deals with the experience of a security guard who had to confront an armed man (a FIFO worker) on a violent rampage with a knife.
In the first instance, I would be tempted to ask questions such as: Where did this happen? When did this happen? Who were the people involved? What was the context? These are the questions one would ask in the ‘description’ phase.
Moving then to the ‘analysis’ phase, I might ask questions such as: How did this happen? Why did this happen? What was the problem? What triggered this situation?
Finally, moving to the ‘evaluation’ phase I might ask broader questions about the life situation of FIFO workers. It is known that there is a higher level of mental health problems with FIFO workers. What are the broader implications of this event then? Is this event a reflection of broader issues
that need addressing in regard to FIFO workers and their families? What can be learned from this experience?
So……. don’t just be an indiscriminate consumer and user of information. Listen critically to what you hear and question what you read and become a smart critical thinker.